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Editorial: Legislature Threatens Press Freedoms

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama Political Reporter has learned that the leadership of the Republican Super Majority is attempting to insert language into the rules of the State legislature that would give the leadership the power to deny press credentials to any members of the press… with a heavy emphasis on denying credentials to small businesses like internet web sites or independently produced news magazines.

The powerful corporate interests that financed the re-elections of the Republican Super Majority are, of course, afforded special privileges by the GOP legislators under this proposed rule; but even they could lose their press ‘privileges’ under provision of these rules which are both a controversial breach of tradition and a dangerous break with the Constitutional protection of freedom of the press which helped make this nation become great.

According to wording made available to the public by one State Representative, “A media representative shall be admitted to the floors of the House or Senate or allowed press privileges if the person is a salaried staff correspondent, reporter, or photographer employed by any of the following: a.) The news department of a federally licensed television or radio station, or the news department of a network providing coverage to television and radio stations, b.) A newspaper of general circulation providing print or online editions for the dissemination of news of a general character, which has a bona fide subscription list of paying subscribers, and has been established, printed, and published at regular intervals. c.) A wire service providing news service to newspapers, television, or radio stations as referred to above. d.) Internet news services and bloggers associated with any of the previously listed categories.”

In past generations, if you wanted to find a job, buy a house, or sell your car you went to your largest nearby newspaper and that is where you went to get your news.

In the modern world, people search the MLS for homes for sale, post their resumes online, and go to an auto trader to buy and sell cars and they get their news from social media and internet sources now rather than from their old hard copy weekly newspaper, or from some of the remaining three times a week publications in Alabama’s larger cities. Most of those internet news sources would be barred from the already largely empty press galleries of the State House that our tax dollars paid for.

When the First Amendment was written, the press was filled almost entirely by independent operators in small towns across American with one or two employees and a small, lovingly cared for printing press. There were no large corporations that owned dozens of large newspapers across the country that sell canned news on canned websites with the help of wire services. Independent news sources like the Alabama Political Reporter are FAR closer to the opinionated journalists of Thomas Jefferson’s day than the giant holding companies who own dozens of TV and radio stations and legacy newspapers, most of which are not headquartered in Alabama.

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We have tremendous respect for the job that our television colleagues do; but their nightly newscasts are only 30 minutes in length: 20 minutes total after commercials, and they have to divide that precious time between weather, national news, global events, movies, human interests, local sports, local violent crimes, entertainment news, missing children, abused dogs, their city council, and local events. They have little time left over for even cursory coverage of state politics and no time for the sort of in depth investigative reporting. Radio keeps you entertained for ten minutes during your daily commute. Hosts get paid to just keep talking nonstop for three to five hours each day and are woefully ill equipped for anything deeper than that.

For better or for worse, in a state the size of Alabama the heavy lifting in the journalistic field falls on us, the dedicated news sites, and it is ridiculous that Alabama’s supposed elected representatives are so openly hostile to the concept of a free and independent media.

Since the election, we have heard inane nonsense from Senate President Del Marsh about defining who a journalist is and now we have to deal with this:

“Applicants seeking press credentials are required to submit documentation from their employer certifying that they are engaged primarily in reporting the sessions of the legislature.” Now reporters have to show Del Marsh and Mike Hubbard their papers? Is this Venezuela?

“The applicant must also certify that, with the exception of the Alabama Press Association and the Alabama Broadcasters Association, and the exception of receiving advertising revenue, they have no affiliation with any person, firm, corporation, association, or political party that attempts to influence legislative issues or lobby members of the Alabama Legislature.”

So, if a reporter’s wife works for the State as a teacher, does that constitute an affiliation with a person attempting to influence legislative issues? If a reporter goes to a church that opposes abortion, same sex marriage, or the State’s anti-immigration law, is that an “affiliation” that would bar a reporter from getting press credentials in the state of Alabama? So reporters can’t have “affiliations;” but multi-billion dollar corporations that lobby the state every day for special favors, regulatory reforms, and economic incentive packages CAN literally donate millions of dollars to the politicians that actually vote on legislation in Montgomery?

Where are there any ethics in that? Oh wait, we have a Speaker of the House (Rep. Mike Hubbard from Auburn) who has been indicted 23 times for criminal ethical misconduct, and will be easily reelected as Speaker today, so there really aren’t any ethics in Montgomery any more, if the legislature ever had any.

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“Applicants unable to comply with the aforementioned certification requirement will not be issued legislative press credentials, but will still be free to cover sessions of the Alabama Legislature from the public galleries located on the sixth and eighth floors. Any person who is discovered to have misrepresented themselves to obtain legislative press credentials will have their credentials denied or revoked.”

O.K. Here we go again. The US Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;”

Threatening the press people who cover the legislature with revoking of their credentials would definitely count as making a law that abridges the freedom of the press. You don’t have to go to any high dollar law school to read and understand that, but protecting our Constitution and the liberties of the people of Alabama has NEVER been a strength, historically speaking, of the Alabama State Legislature.

I don’t think it is any deep secret that all this energy devoted to stripping the people of Alabama of one of their most cherished liberties is aimed squarely at the Alabama Political Reporter, but when politicians realize that they can walk all over anyone’s liberties they have a historical tendency to expand on their trampling of other people’s liberties.

All of this animosity aimed at the Alabama Political Reporter is due to our reporting what almost everybody (lobbyists, staff, and the legislators themselves) were telling us in hushed tones in hallways and corners all over the State House three years ago… they believed that the Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives was breaking ethics laws on a routine basis. Some of those stories we could never substantiate, but evidence piled up that became impossible for us to ignore. We reported what we could substantiate. Investigators with the White Collar Crimes Division of the Alabama Attorney General’s office looked at what we wrote and began a lengthy investigation. That investigation has yielded almost two dozen indictments against the Speaker to this point.

I don’t know whether a jury will find Mike guilty of anything or not. It is not our job to convict Mike Hubbard in the court of public opinion. Our job is to report on what is happening in Alabama politics. If that is good news, like yesterday’s Polaris plant or Airbus, we will report on that. If that is shady dealings, like what got Speaker Hubbard indicted, we have to report on that, too, if we are to have any credibility with the public and so we can sleep soundly at night. If you don’t want to be investigated and indicted, do not conduct yourself in an unethical and possibly criminal manner.

Lashing out at the press and burning another section of the Constitution of the United States only adds to the national perception that Alabama is a corrupt state. As long as people perceive that this state government will not protect its peoples’ rights and that you have to “pay to play” in Alabama, we are going to continually lag behind other states in jobs, income, and opportunity.

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Brandon Moseley
Written By

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with over nine years at Alabama Political Reporter. During that time he has written 8,297 articles for APR. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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